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Overtime, Snowstorms Put Budget In Red

Tammy Daniels

Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco explains why the public safety salaries are running above budget.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city is running a deficit in several of its line items — including police and fire — because of unexpected costs.

Four accounts are significantly over budget or close to being emptied. Police and fire have accounts that have expended more than 80 percent of their balances because of overtime; the snow and ice account is more than $84,000 in the red and the veterans account is expected to be $170,000 over.

The update was the first of what Mayor Richard Alcombright said will be regular budget control reports to the Finance Committee.

"We were budgeting for the exact dollar salary ... we kept the budget accurate and projected overtime but we didn't project for four [officers] to go to the academy and we didn't project for five firefighters on long-term disability," the mayor told the committee on Tuesday. "That's something to keep in mind as we begin budgeting for next year."

Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco said the department paid extra officer salaries for about 48 weeks to cover four officers at the academy plus two long-term disabilities on the force. Morocco said it was unusual for four officers to attend the academy in one year. It was caused by the number of retirements and departures and the fact the state scheduled the academies back to back. Another officer has retired as of March 1 and that means his replacement will attend the next academy.

Morocco did note that some revenues, such as the $15,000 reimbursed by the Solid Sound Festival last summer for overtime, do not show up against his budget but in the general receipts.

Nevertheless, "we're looking at a very sizable shortfall here but I think you're going to see there are a lot of smaller things that we — turnbacks — use," said the mayor. "There are some places we will not spend up to our budget."

The snow and ice account, the only account municipalities can overspend, will get some relief from federal reimbursements for the Jan. 12 snowstorm. The mayor said he expected to get $47,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency toward the $58,000 spent in man-hours, material and equipment to battle the massive Nor'easter.

The veterans services account is already $47,000 over and is expected to spend another $31,000 a month for the next four months. Seventy-five percent of those funds will be reimbursed by the federal government but not until the next fiscal year.

Alcombright said the uptick reflects the large number of veterans who have served in the Middle East and Afghanistan. "We're serving a lot of veterans through this district office," he said. "This money goes back into the community; it pays for rent, it buys groceries, it does all these things. It's a program that needs to be there."

The mayor said city is also keeping an eye on Department of Public Works salaries, which were elevated becuase of the amount of overtime to fight the near-constant snowstorms, and the health insurance account, which is currently projected to be about $100,000 over, "but we're hoping it will fall in line."

Also in deficit: the mayor's office because he didn't realize he had to budget $2,000 in dues to the National Mayor's Association. He promised to do it right next year.

Overall, the city is running about where it should be three-quarters of the way through the fiscal year, said Alcombright, with half its expected revenues received and most accounts having spent between 60 percent and 70 percent of their budgeted amounts. The fiscal year ends June 30. 

Among the good signs are some $90,000 collected in back water fees; a projected increase in school tuition and about $50,000 more in transfer station revenues; more back excise taxes collected; savings of up to $50,000 from taking over the water filtration plant; and bundling of utility costs for all departments which could mean another $70,000 in savings.

The city is also preparing to sell off a number of properties later this summer, including two 64-acre lots off West Shaft Road. A solicitation for bids from auctioneers is being prepared for publication.

The sewer fee is expected to show a deficit its first year because a first-quarter payment couldn't instituted in time.

"It ain't pretty but I think it's doable," said the mayor. "We're going to continue to watch revenues very closely."

Alcombright also provided the committee and those in attendance with the city's responses to recommendations from the state management review and the audit done by Scanlon & Associates. Many of the issues were in the process of being developed or implemented; others, such as adopting current budget procedures as ordinances, were found to be too complex to adopt before the fiscal year begins. They will continue to be worked on.

He said the city was also following the Governmental Accounting and Standards Board, or GASB, rules by accounting for unfunded post-retirement benefits. The city is projected to have future liabilities of $92 million.

"If were to start funding it it would be $3 million a year," said Alcombright. "The accounting practice says you should be banking for this but it would bankrupt every city in the state."

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Tags: Finance Committee, budget      

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 Michael Bloom Yes
 Keith Bona* Yes
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 Alan Marden* Yes
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 Robert Martelle  Yes
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